Amber Ag spends semester prototyping in Shenzhen, China in Hax Accelerator
How they met Apple’s Tim Cook, Alibaba’s Jack Ma, and the Premier of China during their semester away.
We interviewed Lucas Frye, founder of Amber Agriculture, an ag-tech startup implementing technology to help farmers manage their crop storage after it is harvested. The team won first place in the 2016 Cozad New Venture Competition and is an active venture in iVenture Accelerator’s second cohort.
- What does Amber Ag do? Tell us a bit about your team vision/ goal.
Amber Agriculture is focused on enabling farmers throughout postharvest processes. Right now we are working to provide them with simple-to-use automation technology for grain storage management. Farmers may store grain
for three months to a year in bins. Their goal is to maintain the value of the grain during that period from which it is susceptible to infestation, spoilage, and moisture loss—which is what the price they receive is based on. We’re building and testing new wireless sensors, that can be self-installed inside the bin, which read key quality conditions of the grain. Based on these reads, the sensors communicate with fans to control aeration automatically, keeping the quality intact to preserve the grain so the farmer can receive as high price as possible.
Long term we can expand on what quality sensing means and use it to connect end-use buyers to farmers. End-value traits and grain differentiation around quality composition alongside high degrees of information will open up farmers to larger markets and premium pricing opportunities not accessible in past generations. We hope to lead them there.
- What progress had you made by the end of your summer in iVenture, before heading to the Hax Accelerator in Shenzhen?
During iVenture we mainly attacked market research and customer discovery. Over the 12-week period we participated in an NSF I-Corp program alongside other Midwest teams that had agriculture commercialization ideas. We talked with over 50 stakeholders in farming, agribusiness, academia, and ag-tech around the problems of grain storage management, hardly talking about our conceptualized solution. Our conversations took us from farmers’ grain bins to tours of premium grain elevator facilities. This gave us a stronger perspective about the opportunity to build, and we walked away at the end of the accelerator ready to do just that.
- What made the HAX Accelerator in Shenzhen an attractive opportunity?
We evaluated a couple of different accelerator programs, but only intensely considered the opportunity to join Hax. It is quite unlike any other in the fact that it is centered around helping you think critically about the product development process. They provide resources and manpower in mechanical and electrical engineering, product design, manufacturability, etc which is all taking place in an office located in the heart of the electronics capital of the world—Shenzhen, China. Hardware most simply put… is hard. Working alongside other teams going through the same growing pains and having around alumni startups that previously went through it, has proven to be invaluable.
- Spending a semester abroad is always fun and challenging. Any funny stories since you’ve been out there?
Several. We have only been here 65 days, but a lot has happened and not just within our own startup development. To keep it confusingly short: we found ourselves in same room with the Premier of China, Alibaba CEO Jack Ma, and Apple CEO Tim Cook; rolled a miniature grain bin through the busiest street of a city of 15 million people; and just won a pitch / demo day competition judged by 30 Harvard Business School alums.